Aston Villa visit Anfield on Saturday looking to trouble Liverpool once again. Recent injuries to players in the squad mean that Liverpool's line-up will look quite different to the one that comfortably triumphed over Tottenham Hotspur before the international break. Liverpool have to be wary of a Paul Lambert side that has been effective in exploiting deficiencies in the side.
Aston Villa midfield has been strong against Liverpool combined with counter attacking and that could be something to watch out for in Saturday's late Premier League fixture. This team is comfortable at Anfield and Liverpool have not yet defeated the Midlands side at home since Brendan Rodgers took charge halfway through 2012.
Christian Benteke and Andi Weimann. This was Brendan Rodgers' first meeting with Aston Villa and it was one to remember for reasons that cause one to itch uncontrollably and roll around on the floor in manic despair while laughing at the futility of living in hope. Two goals from Christian Benteke and one from Andi Weimann settled the match before the hour mark. Steven Gerrard's late consolation only served to give the scoreline a smidgen of respectability.
The result was typical of Liverpool's season in 2012/13. Liverpool show fortitude and character in a closely fought game to win in a battle or even win a game or two in a row. The Redmen are rising! Defeat. Poor performances. Where's the midfield? Batter Norwich and draw with Arsenal and Manchester City in entertaining games only to lose to West Bromwich Albion at home. Crush Swansea City and Wigan while securing a win against top opposition for the first time in the league that season only to be pressed into submission by Southampton. That win against Tottenham at Anfield really looked like something. Oh fiddlesticks.
Liverpool already had a tough start to the season but went eight games unbeaten before succumbing to Tottenham under the dreamy André Villas-Boas. That's acceptable. It was at White Hart Lane and Liverpool recovered to win at home to Southampton and away to West Ham with goals from Glen Johnson, Jonjo Shelvey, and that man Joe Cole. Time weaves its merry spell indeed. Aston Villa at home? Defeat. It was the first shockingly depressing and deflating result of the league campaign following what seemed to be an upturn in form. The opening day defeat was a surprise but the idea was that there was work to do. October's home cup defeats to Swansea and Udinese confounded many as they followed some impressive results away to Norwich and Everton. It always seemed like Brendan Rodgers was getting somewhere before the chastening defeats at home to Aston Villa, away to Stoke, at home to the true Baggies, and away to Southampton.
Liverpool were progressing, however, under Brendan Rodgers' guidance but the best lessons seemed to be the most bitter ones.
Revenge. Benteke scored again and Aston Villa took the lead once more. Was it to be a repeat prescription of misery? Jordan Henderson equalised a couple of minutes after the second half resumed and Steven Gerrard's penalty on the hour mark gave Liverpool the lead. Villa Park was the scene of a Red victory but Liverpool had to fight. 42,037 bore witness to Liverpool redressing the balance somewhat against Aston Villa especially after Liverpool's disappointing loss to Mauricio Pochettino's Southampton. After taking over from Nigel Adkins, Pochettino quickly brought a higher intensity, predilection for whirlwind pressing, and a fierce ambition to the club. Adkins did well but Pochettino would do better.
Liverpool's response was to collect all three points against Lambert's Lions but Liverpool could not take an opponent whose strengths seem to be custom-made for Liverpool's weaknesses. Brendan Rodgers was typically Brendan Rodgers in his assessment.
We played reasonably well in the first half but we were punished for a mistake. We upped the tempo after the break and we were excellent. It is a terrific win for us. Both teams went right to the end. Our quality was there for all to see, and the rhythm and flow of our passing was improved. Villa went to a diamond and we exploited the space out wide. Coutinho's pass for the Henderson goal was superb, and Henderson's determination and desire to make the run was outstanding.
Early season momentum maintained. Daniel Sturridge followed his goal in Liverpool's opening day one-nil victory against Stoke City with another for Liverpool to snare a second successive victory and another clean sheet. Those were the days when fans wondered whether defensive solidity with a reduction in goals scored was the manager's emerging philosophy for the club. Thankfully, goals and more goals is the way of working around Melwood. Clean sheets need not apply.
The result gave Liverpool the best start to a season for half a decade and was part of the "toughing it out" narrative, where many people thought that Liverpool would become a stoic side under Rodgers, judging by early results in that league campaign. Victory was followed by a home victory against David Moyes' Manchester United at Anfield and snaring key victories early in the season could form part of an early season push where Liverpool build momentum and put pressure on various rivals.
Conceding goals without a functioning midfield is fun. Andi Weimann and Christian Benteke, yes those two again, gave Aston Villa a two goal lead at Anfield but Daniel Sturridge halved the gap in added time before the break. A Steven Gerrard penalty early in the second half enabled Liverpool to end up with one point from a maddening game. This was another game at Anfield where Aston Villa built a two goal lead before half time with Weimann and Benteke scoring the goals. This was another fruitful trip to Merseyside for Paul Lambert's Aston Villa with a back four in a 433 formation unlike the 352 formation that brought three point last time round.
That's three half-time leads for Aston Villa in four games. Rodgers didn't make the right decisions at the start of the game. Jordan Henderson and Steven Gerrard were outmatched by Aston Villa's three in midfield while Liverpool squeezing Philippe Coutinho and Raheem Sterling wide of SAS didn't help matters much in midfield. This was one of Gerrard's early trials in the "Pirlo role" but it wasn't pretty. Liverpool struggled against counter attacks and Simon Mignolet could have done more for Benteke's goal that put the Villans two nil up.
Still, Rodgers changed personnel at half time and an injury forced the Liverpool manager to do so again midway through the second half. At 2-1 down at half time, Liverpool were lucky to be only a goal down but Rodgers made the right substitution. This was not on the menu.
Rodgers' fifth meeting with Aston Villa should be an interesting one that pits him against Paul Lambert once more. Both managers left the promoted clubs they entered the Premier League with after impressive debut seasons for bigger clubs. Lambert has struggled at the Midlands club but has made a good start this season with Roy Keane assisting him.
Last season Arsenal, Manchester City, and Chelsea succumbed to a side that can spring a surprise against the best sides in English football. Liverpool's name was nearly added last season and Brendan Rodgers' first encounter with Aston Villa was not one he will remember fondly. It is best if Liverpool experience one of their quick starts but it will be even better if Liverpool manage to go through the first half with a clean sheet. If that's not possible, conceding just the one goal in the opening 45 minutes would be an improvement.